FLOWING blond locks, shirt flapping outside his shorts, an unerring ability to make the ball talk – and even a kiss or two for his adoring public. Tony Currie was the very essence of swaggering Seventies cool.
The iconic schemer, cut from the same footballing cloth as fellow maverick larger-than-life stars such as Rodney Marsh, Frank Worthington, Charlie George and Stan Bowles, lit up many a late 1970s afternoon at Elland Road – just as he did 30-odd miles down the M1 at Bramall Lane earlier on in that kitsch decade.
There may have been strikes, three-day weeks and black-outs in an at times murky political and industrial landscape up north, but the working man still had Currie...
Just ask his adoring Sheffield United faithful who unanimously voted him the club’s greatest-ever player and his fellow worshippers at Leeds United – many of whom were resplendent with “Tony Currie Walks on Water” badges during his golden tenure with the club from June 1976 to August 1979.
The press and TV men lapped it up. Who of a certain age can’t remember John Motson’s famous “A quality goal from a quality player” line following a virtuoso moment during his heyday with the Blades? Of which there were many.
And for those of a Whites persuasion, what about the classic commentary from a young Martin Tyler, then working for Yorkshire TV, following Currie’s famous banana-shot against Southampton in front of the Kop in November 1978! “Oh my goodness..and Tony Currie milks the applause that is so deserved!”
The man himself, who turned 61 on New Year’s Day and who is still working at his second home of Bramall Lane – the stage for today’s derby between Currie’s two former White Rose clubs – fondly recalls his time with the Whites, although the fact he and his team-mates were the bridesmaids on three occasions in heart-breaking cup semi-final exits still rankles somewhat.
An FA Cup semi-final loss to Manchester United at Hillsborough in April 1977 was followed by successive last-four League Cup exits to Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest and Lawrie McMenemy’s Southampton in the next two seasons and it was cruel on Currie, who feels his best years as a player arrived at Leeds.
Reflecting on his time at Elland Road, the Londoner, who switched to the Whites for £240,000 shortly after the Blades’ relegation from the top flight at the end of the 1975-76 season, said: “I think they got me at the right time. I had three great years there from 26 to 29 and they were probably my best years.
“I was playing in a team of internationals; albeit one that was getting on a bit. But we were still a fabulous team.
“Of the famous Leeds side, (Johnny) Giles and (Jack) Charlton were the only ones who weren’t there. All the others were and I knew and respected them.
“I remember playing four games with Billy (Bremner) and a season with Clarkey (Allan Clarke) and during my time at Leeds we had three semi-finals; one each year – and lost every one!
“I do think if the club hadn’t let Don Howe go and Joe Jordan and (Gordon) McQueen, we’d have won something. Jimmy Armfield made some excellent signings such as Paul Hart, Ray Hankin and Arthur Graham, despite having to replace one of the top three or four teams that’s ever lived as the old Leeds team were fantastic.
“But Jordan and McQueen going took the shine off the squad a bit. They were action players, one straight down the middle at centre-back in McQueen and a strong centre-forward in Joe.
“We lost to Man United in my first season at Hillsborough and I just think we hit Nottingham Forest at the wrong time in the next season.
“That side went on to win European Cups and were a great team. But we should have got through against Southampton in the last one as we were 2-0 up with 20 minutes to go at Elland Road and it ended 2-2. Then we went down there and lost 1-0.”
Providing countless halcyon moments that remain truly etched in Elland Road folklore remain Currie’s lasting epitaph from his time at the club, from that shot against Saints to his screamer on the opening day of the 1978-79 campaign against Arsenal at Highbury, with the classy Cockney replying in kind with a ferocious strike from the tightest of angles after fellow midfield magician Liam Brady had taken centre stage with a similar breathtaking strike.
Currie’s effort even won applause from the Gunners faithful standing in the North Bank that baking-hot day and no-one could ever accuse him of not being good value during his crowd-pleasing career.
On the affection he drew from supporters across the land, Currie – who won 11 of his 17 England caps while at Leeds – said: “I had nine years at Sheffield, three at Leeds and four at QPR and I think the fans enjoyed what I gave them. I used to react with the crowd, because I could hear them while concentrating on the game and I used to like having a bit of banter with them as well.
“I can’t really say that any were any better than the others. All were absolutely fantastic and the Leeds fans were great to me.
“I obviously remember the banana shot. It was shown on ITV and I think it was the goal of the season, and then there was the Arsenal one on the first day of the season. I watch them both on the tape every now and again to cheer myself up!”
He added: “All the old players say they wouldn’t change things for the world and nor would I; there were some great teams. “However, now you can play on pitches like Wembley every week and it’s different. I think teams are more skilful all round now with full-backs and centre-backs who have as much skill as anyone. Whereas in my day, you were playing in three inches of mud.”
All good things must come to an end, but it was with genuine sadness that Currie headed back to his native London, for family reasons, to join QPR – a club who famously rejected him as a schoolboy – in the late summer of 1979 in a £450,000 deal.
So endeth a love-in for Leeds fans with the man universally known as TC, although most United followers of a certain age will always have a place in their hearts for a gifted and classy operator who is still regarded as one of the best players to have ever donned the famous white shirt and one who had few peers in his pomp.
On exiting Leeds, Currie, who went one better on the cup front with Rangers and captained them in their FA Cup final replay against Spurs in May 1982 – only to again miss out on the big prize – said: “It was down to family reasons and nothing to do with Leeds United why I had to get back to London. But it was a wrench as I’d have loved to have stayed and played in Europe as I’d never done that before.
“In my last season, we actually qualified for the Uefa Cup and I was disappointed not to play in Europe.
“Leeds went a bit downhill after I went and it took them a while to get a replacement schemer. I remember they got Alex Sabella and Gary Hamson in, from Sheffield United funnily enough. Gary’s on my table for the Leeds game!”
Leeds may have been a love affair, but Currie’s time with the Blades has pretty much been a marriage, with the Bramall Lane legend coming back to the club he holds a torch for in 1988 to become their Football in the Community Officer, a role he filled for 20 years.
Pretty much an adopted Yorkshireman, having spent most of his adult life up north, Currie has also worked at the Blades academy and is currently the club ambassador, representing them at everything from functions and shop openings to providing hospitality on match days, while being one of the most recognisable figures in the Steel City.
He said: “I moved back up from London and did the community job for 20 years and it was lovely to be coming to the club every day. Eventually, I went to the academy for three or four years and it’s been great to be associated with the club.
“I think it’s now my 32nd year involved with the club. Nine years playing and 20 with the community and I’ve just done three years as ambassador... it adds up to a lot of years.”